Joe is more than the boss. He's a sweat-suited Svengali to Marvis, Marvis' 18-year-old brother Hector and Joe's nephews Rodney and Mark, all of whom work out regularly at Smokin' Joe's. And in the months since the former champ took over Marvis' career, Joe, who is now 37, has resumed daily workouts, sometimes trading punches with Marvis "when the other sparring partners are late."
Joe has been a reluctant retiree. Almost everyone in boxing thought he should have retired after his fifth-round knockout by George Foreman on June 15, 1976; but as recently as three years ago he actually was training for a comeback fight against Kallie Knoetze, when he became ill with hepatitis and was forced to quit. Now he's again talking about returning to the ring. Indeed, it seems more postfight attention was focused on Joe's musings about a comeback than on Marvis' victory over Zouski. "The wife's gone, right?" Joe said when the subject was brought up by reporters. (Florence Frazier, Joe's wife of some 19 years, who tends to stay out of the reach of interviewers, is known not to be in favor of Joe's return, just as she wasn't thrilled with Marvis' decision to throw leather around as a living.)
Assured that the coast was clear, Joe said, "I don't see anybody who can beat me out there. I'm a master of boxing now. I'm leaning toward coming back, I definitely am. My boys know I can. And my ladies [Florence and daughter Jacki] are starting to think so, too." Joe paused and smiled. "Of course, she [Florence] don't want to mess around with the good things in life. Understand what I mean?" Joe laughed. The reporters laughed, too, their reaction about as spontaneous as that of the tavern customers in the beer commercial from whom Smokin' Joe, vocalist, elicits applause for one of his songs with a fierce scowl.
On a stool six feet away from where Joe talked easily to the press, Marvis sat in reflected light, just as he always has. He has become something of an enigma, both because his instincts tell him to be guarded about himself and because his father demands it. Besides, Marvis is only beginning to find out about himself, a process that isn't made any easier by being "Joe Frazier's son." Now, as Marvis' own career appears ready to take off, he will have to deal with the question of his father's comeback. Clearly, Marvis knows it's Joe's territory. "I don't see how he's going to be able to come back and still work with me," said Marvis. "It's his decision, of course, but I can't tell you how much it has meant to have him around every day."
Having to deal with Joe's considerable presence has been a way of life for Marvis; all children of famous parents have to live with it. As a kid, for example, Marvis couldn't go down to the basement rec room without seeing his father's Olympic gold medal, which Joe won when Marvis was four. But Marvis treats such things matter-of-factly: "People would comment about the medal when we entertained guests down there, but nobody in our family ever sat around and said, 'Look at that.' Our house is a winning house, and I guess we would expect that of Pop."
Marvis' calm expression of confidence about his roots doesn't come across as bravado. He speaks so evenly, without the hysterical braggadocio of the young Cassius Clay or the brashness of the young Joe Frazier, that one concludes he's saying what he thinks. If Marvis has to deal with a subject—such as his father's continued defeats by Muhammad Ali in the media wars—that seems to beg for rancor or theatrics, he simply calls on his religion. "It never bothered me when Ali would get on Dad," he says. "My father's his own man, and in our family the Lord plays a major part in our lives, so we believe all things work to the good of those who love the Lord. Whatever was done, it was God's will that it be that way."
And don't expect Marvis to wax philosophical on why he's attempting to follow in his father's footsteps. "I don't feel I'm going in and trying to do what my father did," he says. "It just happens to be a coincidence that I picked the same field that my father picked. And if you go way back to, say, Pilgrim times, it's not unusual, anyway. A son almost always followed the same trade as his father did. That's what I'm doing."
The bond that ties Marvis to his father is obvious and elemental. His father is a hero to him, yes, but at the same time Marvis can pinpoint, more easily than most sons, the instant his dad became a mere mortal in his eyes. It was on that June night in 1976, at Nassau Coliseum, when he watched Joe—shaven head glistening—hit the canvas in the fifth round after a series of blows by Foreman. "My father was my idol," says Marvis. "At that time I felt he couldn't be beat. He was like...well, like Superman. It was the first time that I realized my father was human, that he could make mistakes and could do things that other humans do." Perhaps because he saw both sides of his father's career, Marvis appears to have handled the burden of being a champion's son about as well as can be expected. In the rare moments when he's interviewed alone, he comes across exactly as he does when he's with his father—intelligent, goal-oriented, conservative. He talks of the strength he draws from the Lord and from the closeness of his family. "I am the way I am because of the way I was raised," he says. "I was taught to respect people, and I learned to listen and speak when you're spoken to. That sort of thing. The chip doesn't fall far from the block." Marvis still speaks of the possibility of attending college in Philadelphia in the fall to pick up the accounting courses he feels he'll need to one day run the family business. There's a certain no-jive, God-and-country sensibility about Marvis that could make him, like his Dad before him, a pugilist of the proletariat.
But there's a fundamental difference between father and son. Joe came into the world on Jan. 12, 1944 as the 13th child of Rubin and Dolly Frazier, a proud couple who didn't rent and didn't sharecrop but lived off their own 10 acres of land in Beaufort, S.C. It was a hard existence. When Marvis was born on Sept. 12, 1960, he was Joe and Florence's first child. They were married in 1962, before traveling north to look for a better life. On March 8, 1971, when Marvis was only 10, Joe, who had knocked out Jimmy Ellis in five rounds to become heavyweight champion 13 months earlier, earned $2.5 million for beating Ali in what was simply billed as The Fight. Today, Joe has a substantial monthly income from land he sold several years ago, other investment properties, a limousine rental service and his gym, though he says the gym's less a business than a community service. He says he "helps pay the rent" by acting in television commercials. With or without pro boxing, Marvis will be well taken care of, and fighters don't generally have well-to-do fathers. "It won't be necessary for my kids to be fighters," Joe told his biographer, Phil Pepe. "You know, in my father's time and my time, things were a lot tougher. But today, my kids can become lawyers, doctors, or something like that. I don't want them to get their heads banged around like their father's doing."
Joe says those words don't haunt him now. He says he has a clear conscience about his son's decision to become a boxer because he never pushed Marvis into the sport. Joe's enthusiasm for guiding Marvis now suggests otherwise, but Marvis backs his father up. "He never pushed me at all," Marvis says. "And my mom tried more or less to keep me away from boxing."